While T.J. Oshie’s 500th point and two-goal outburst in the Capitals’ 5-1 Valentine’s Day thrashing of the San Jose Sharks occupied most of the headlines from the game, right wing Tom Wilson’s empty-net goal at the end of the game was also noteworthy for two reasons. One was that it was his 15th of the season, which set a career-high for the former first-round pick (16th overall), but perhaps more importantly, it proved how Wilson’s playing style has evolved.
Despite missing the first part of the season due to a suspension that put a tarnish on his reputation around the league, Wilson has been among the team’s most productive offensive players since his return, registering 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) in 39 games played, with a plus-14 rating while averaging a career-high 18:06 of ice time a night for Head Coach Todd Reirden. But what has been the most impressive about Wilson’s play since his return from suspension has been the way in which his game has evolved.
There’s no getting around the fact that Wilson’s suspension has had an impact on his playing style, but it is also due to his commitment to become a more offensive-minded player. Prior to this season, Wilson’s best offensive season was his 14-goal, 35-point 2017-18 campaign, during which he averaged just under three minutes less of ice time than he is this season. Not only is he on pace to shatter those point totals, but he has evolved his game to include more of an offensive approach. Wilson has learned to pick hitting opportunities and avoid ones that could potentially lead to another call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, and has been shooting the puck more frequently this season than he ever has before; his current shooting percentage of 17.0 is a career-best and ranks fourth on the team among skaters who have played minimum of 30 games this season, behind only Nic Dowd, Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin.
Wilson’s evolution as a player is one that both he and the Capitals as an organization can be proud of. He has become one of the team’s most valuable players as a result and given he is still just 24-years old (25 on March 29) means he has not reached the prime of his career. If he continues on the trajectory he is currently on, one can be sure those will be extremely good years for the Capitals’ No. 43 and the team.
By Michael Fleetwood